Thursday 23 November 2017

Accurate hurlers point way to brighter future

TWO GUTSY wins showing a lot of spirit and promise in the process, not to mention a brace of excellent scoring tallies: what's not to like about Wexford's encouraging start to the new hurling season?

To pick off 20-plus points takes some doing at the best of times, and to do it consistently in the sticky underfoot conditions of January is all the more praiseworthy. Wexford hit 21 in the regulation 70 minutes against D.I.T. before adding another eight in extra-time, and another 24 white flags were raised on Sunday last for a grand total of 53.

One has to go back three years for the last time the Wexford Senior hurlers amassed 20-plus points in consecutive games: in the 2010 league when Westmeath and Down were beaten by 1-20 to 0-14 and 2-23 to 1-12 respectively.

I wrote it last week and I'll write it again: we won't get over-excited about results of winter tournament games, but the players and mentors should be praised for their work all the same because clearly they are trying hard to move in the right direction.

It's easy to figure out how a vicious circle of under-achievement develops. Supporters are most unforgiving of inter-county players if they are not producing results, because they look on them as the elite and place more demands and expectations on them for this reason. That's all well and good, but if you're a young player coming into an unsuccessful set-up, it doesn't take much for the confidence levels to drop if big games are being lost on a consistent basis.

The only way to get out of that type of rut is by winning, so that's why the results of the last two Sundays are so important in my view. I'm not proclaiming that this is going to be our year in hurling, far from it: I'm merely making the point that all fair-minded Wexford followers who have seen our Walsh Cup games so far will be pleased with the early signs. Let's face it, winning these games is so much better than losing, so well done to all involved.

Next up are the Cats in the semi-final, and it will be interesting to see if they field their development squad for the second weekend running or bring in the big guns. Last year the 'A' team wasn't unleashed until the final when they beat Galway in Salthill, but whatever Kilkenny line-out makes the short journey, it will be another good test for Wexford because a lot of their second choices would make the starting 15 of second tier league teams.

I'm glad that common sense has prevailed and enabled Liam Dunne to get some use out of Paudie Butler's expertise, because struggling hurling counties need all the help they can get from the best coaches. An impressive backroom team has been assembled, and the man I'm most familiar with is Gerry Fitzpatrick whose expertise I've experienced first-hand with county and club camogie teams over the years.

Gerry will maintain a quiet presence on the sideline on match days, but you can be sure that he isn't missing a trick. Though coming from a basketball background, I always found his training drills to be innovative and player-friendly, and he has a vast store of knowledge to tap into. Indeed, while the services of Enda McNulty have been retained, Gerry's day job involves lecturing in sports psychology in W.I.T. and he's a dab hand in that area too. His involvement with our hurlers is a most welcome development.

Now for an apology: last week I referred to Stephen Murphy as a ' Tipperary native', and the man himself emailed to stress that he was born in Wexford General Hospital on July 10, 1986, and spent two years here before his family moved to the Premier county. I was aware of the background of Stephen's father, Pat, who attended St. Peter's College and then spent four years with St. Martin's, while his mother hails from Ballycanew.

The mistake arose because I wrongly thought the family had left Wexford before rather than after Stephen's birth. I have heard him described by supporters as 'the new lad from Tipp.' more than once at games since he joined the Senior squad last year, but I'm happy to clarify that he's representing the county of his birth.

I'm not off the hook yet though as in attempting to praise the Blackwater club last week I inadvertently caused some offence by referring to the 'lack of dressing-rooms'. To clarify, they have four rooms which can be used for that purpose, but just two of them have shower units at the moment. That's where I was coming from in suggesting that, for example, to host a big Senior club double-header might be slightly beyond their capabilities right now.

However, the good news is that their development committee is looking into ways of financing a new complex and they have set 2015 as a target date. They were out in force again stewarding on Sunday and the bottom line is that they're a progessive club trying hard to better themselves in tough times, like so many others throughout the county.

Space (or more precisely the lack of it) prevents me from looking at next weekend's games, but good luck to our footballers, hurlers and the Oulart-The Ballagh camogie team. It's just a pity the power of bi-location is beyond me as I'd like to see all three games.

Finally, sympathy is extended to the Kehoe family of Cametigue, Bunclody, on the death of Jimmy who was a fine footballer in his club's greatest era before going on to serve his county well as a selector at under-age level, always with a smile on his face. That area has been hit hard after bidding farewell to another favourite son, Martin Jordan, just a few short months ago.

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